Dafacto—new name, same blog (or, why I don’t suck any more)

I’ve always been interested in well-designed experiences, perhaps because behind all well-designed experiences are people who care. In the business I’m in—designing products and services—we often speak of the “user experience”. Since this blog chronicles my life, I thought a meaningful name for it would be “This User’s Experience”, and thereafter thisusersexperience.com was born.

That was a long name though, and having to spell it over the phone a few times (in Spanish) convinced me something had to be done. In a stroke of brilliance, I had it — ThisUX.com. You see, in our business, user experience is usually abbreviated “UX”.

You know those drawings where you see a beautiful woman but the rest of the world sees an old hag? Well, where I saw “This UX”, the rest of the world saw, “This SUX”. And that did suck, but I couldn’t think of a better option.

One of Makalu’s first customers, some fifteen years ago, was the City of Darmstadt, Germany. We designed their online news publication and implemented the CMS behind it. The name they chose was Dafacto, which I thought was really cool.

A few years ago, the City decided to centralize all their online activity around the more city-branded domain darmstadt.de, and initially they kept the dafacto domain dormant.

Perhaps due to the excellent service we’ve provided over the years, or more likely out of pity, the good folks at the City of Darmstadt recently decided to let me take over the domain I always admired, and today I’m excited to announce I’ve relaunched my blog at:

https://dafacto.com

(And I hope all four of you continue following along here.)

A weekly planner—the missing killer feature from Things

Update — Since writing this article, I’ve switched back to OmniFocus.


When CulturedCode finally announced the public availability of their cloud-based syncing system, I decided to switch back to Things, from OmniFocus, for my task-management tool. Although I’m quite happy with the switch, there’s one killer feature that (for me) is missing from the app, which I’ll describe in this article. Continue reading A weekly planner—the missing killer feature from Things

Could Twitter better support conversations with a special @all address?

There’s a couple of problems I’ve noticed with Twitter conversations:

  1. As the audience of the conversation grows, the number of characters remaining available for the message gets reduced, making it increasingly difficult to say anything.

  2. To make room for the message, recipients are sometimes removed, and then end up missing out on a part of the conversation.

I was thinking that Twitter could solve this with clever use of the special @all account, which Twitter would use to track the participants of a conversation.

Each tweet in a conversation would then show two address — that of the person tweeting, and then the @all address. When you reply-to-all on such messages (so that they appear to go to the speaker and the @all address), Twitter would add your own address to the internally-tracked conversation list.

Recipients on the conversation list would see the tweet from you, with cc to the @all account. Most importantly, everybody on the conversation would receive these tweets in their @replies list (helping to ensure they don’t miss anything.)

Open issues and drawbacks:

  • How do you know who’s on the list? (Not a big deal..)

  • How to unsubscribe from the conversation? (Maybe a bigger deal…)

How to never forget to enable your time tracking timer.

Over the years, I’ve used several Mac app to track my time while working — On the Job, TrackRecord, Billings,… you name it. The main problem I’ve had with all of them is remembering to enable the timer as I work. Sometimes I’d end the day, only to realize I hadn’t tracked any of my time.

Recently, we’ve started using the online service Harvest, which comes with its own desktop app for the Mac. It’s fine, but like the others, doesn’t solve the problem I have in remembering to start the timer.

Finally, with the help of Makalu’s system administrator shell scripting wizard Niall, I have a solution.

For a long time, I’ve been a heavy user of Keyboard Maestro — an app that lets non-programming pointy-haired bosses like me, create scripts to automate their Macs. Ugly website, but a great product. Here’s some cool things I do with Keyboard Maestro:

  • With the tap of a keystroke, I create a new contact record in Daylite, each time we get a new RaceSplitter customer.

  • Each morning, my online backup tool, Arq, gets its upload bandwidth throttled (while I work), and then gets opened up again during the night.

  • With the tap of a keystroke, create a temporary document in Notational Velocity, containing the contents of the clipboard.

  • With the tap of a keystroke, open all my project-related folders and URLs.

  • With the tap of a keystroke, shoot myself a quick email with the contents of the clipboard.

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p>And now, with Keyboard Maestro, I’ve solved the problem of remembering to turn on my timer.

Harvest provides an API that developers can use to interact programatically with the service. One of the actions available to Keyboard Maestro scripts is to run a shell script, and act on the results.

I combined the two to create a script that runs every 5 minutes beteween 8:30 AM and 7:30 PM, sending a request to the Harvest API, and checking the response to see if a timer is active. If a timer is not active, I growl an alert to myself and switch into the Harvest app.

So far, this solution has worked great for me!

If you’re interested, here’s a visual of the script:

My new social media diet

1996. I remember it clearly. Recently graduated, I was working as an engineer at the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany. A rebellious type, I’d decided that either they let me keep my Mac, or I’d go work somewhere else. They let me keep it.

I’d heard about the internet, and supposedly we had it, but via an email gateway called Bitnet. To “FTP” something, we’d send an email, and get back several encoded file chunks, requiring a terminal emulation program to download for offline reassembling.

Curious one day, I downloaded, assembled and launched John Norstad’s usenet reader. I’ll never forget that day; the moment I realized I had graphical access to the internet, and a door opened to a brand new world.

Soon I was following several newsgroups, and before long I experienced the first feelings that we’re probably all familiar with these days — that a huge amount of possibly useful information was being continually exchanged, and that missing even a day of it could leave one hopelessly behind. There was a larger social audience than accessible in my real-life world. There were those who were considered authorities, and getting their attention felt like an elevating accomplishment.

Little by little, my productivity began to suffer. Somehow I found myself having difficulty focusing and getting as deeply involved in my projects. The furtherest suspicion on my mind was that it might have something to do with the energy I was expending in following the newsgroups. After some time, I decided that perhaps it was the calling of the internet and the bursting horizon of opportunities, and I left to start a business. Looking back, it was probably a bit of both.

Rewind back even a bit further, to the decade covering my university studies, and first couple of professional years.

Somehow, without access to social media, I managed to identify some of the key areas that would later prove central and valuable in my life. I discovered that design is something everybody can benefit from understanding, and Robin William’s, “The Mac is not a Typewriter” forever changed my written communications. I discovered that engineering is about trade-offs, and Frederic Brooks’s, “The Mythical Man Month” taught me that there are no silver bullets. Stephen Covey taught me that it’s critical to understand the difference between “urgent” and “important”. Michael Gerber taught me that being good at something doesn’t always translate to being good at the business of that something. Roger Black showed me the beauty of black, white & red. Jan Tschichold helped me understand why I cozy up to some books, and not others. David Ogilvy taught me why I bought things.

These were, for me, profound and valuable lessons learned, over the period of about a decade, from a relatively few, but accomplished, individuals.

Fast forward to today, 2011. I read my RSS feed over breakfast, and then catch up on Twitter over coffee. Twitter stays active all day long, continually grabbing my attention.

I start to notice that even while concentrating, pauses in thought — for example, hitting a conflict while defining some project specifications — seems to trigger a desire to switch into Twitter, almost like it’s a relief to active thinking and problem-solving.

And at the end of the day, I have a feeling of uneasiness, of dissatisfaction, a little anxious. Rather than engage in reflection, though, I check my feeds. And Facebook. And Twitter, again.

I also begin to wonder whether the reasons I communicate, in the online context, have changed. Do I really have something to say, or am I just trying to have something to say? Why am I reaching to jump into that conversation? Is because they’re influentials, and I want to be seen a part of their conversation? Why did I reply to that person’s comment to me, but not the other’s? Is it because I know people are looking? Am I becoming influenced by the superficial pull of status? Are we really socially interacting, or are we more like living window mannequins, maintaining a carefully crafted expression, position and always seeking notice of those passing by?

For some reason, which I haven’t yet identified, several weeks ago I simply thought, “Enough is enough.” And since then, I’ve only opened Twitter to tweet (and that was relatively infrequent), and respond to the people who’ve contacted me. No Twitter consumption at all. Nor Facebook. I’ve only caught up on RSS one day per week, usually on Saturday afternoon.

It has felt wonderful.

I’ve enjoyed a sense of calm I’d forgotten I was capable of. I found myself intellectually and analytically engaged in my life’s important activities, and haven’t felt those activities any longer to be overwhelming.

Although there have been times in the past when I cut back on social-media consumption, this time, for some reason, it has been different. This time, I’ve had the sort of “eureka” sensation I had after studying about the Paleo diet, and somehow knowing that I’d made a change that’s going to stick with me permanently.

Reflection

I find it interesting to reflect on my life before 1996, and after. If I visualize pre-1996, I see a relatively open and sparse world, in which based on nothing more than my own pursuits and limited social interactions, I identified and learned about a small handful of things that would prove of lifelong value to me.

Post-1996 — the online period — looks, by comparison, like a noisy television screen, tuned to a channel that’s signed off the air. Literally thousands of topics have appeared on my radar, raised by people I don’t know, but whose social weighting, rather than their accomplishments, have caused me to at least mentally flag the matters as potentially important to understand. File them to Delicious, tag them, Instapaper, Readability, a quick Amazon Kindle purchase, and add the author to some Twitter list.

And rather than a select, few individuals, my inflated and distorted perception of expertise has extended to hundreds, if not thousands. 10,000 twitter followers? He must know what he’s talking about.

As I look back on the past 15 years, and try to identify what I’ve learned in consuming social media, what has proven really valuable in my life, I come up empty. And that’s, I think, profoundly disappointing, considering the number of information pieces that I temporarily found interesting; of course, bookmarked and tagged for later reference. Can it really be true there was nothing there of comparable value to the visualization lessons I learned from Eduard Tufte, or the principles of investing I learned from Harry Browne?

And what I also see, looking at pre- and post-1996, is a difference in independent intellectual engagement. And I prefer the “pre” period, during which I would spend long periods of time just thinking. Just observing. Just reflecting. And, most importantly, I’d piece things together on my own, that would result in meaningful personal progress, and identification of what’s really important to me.

Affects of virtual societies

In his book in on mathematical illiteracy, John Allen Paulos discusses (among many other things) some not-so-obvious affects of global media. In our everyday lives, we’re exposed to a gaussian-like distribution of events, with extremities like murders and natural disasters being so statistically rare that if exposed only to local news, we’d hardly ever hear of them. Most of us in the developed world would perceive life as relatively tranquil.

But national and global daily news have the effect of artificially compressing the distribution, making rare events seem far more common, and this has the disturbing effect of distorting our perceptions and views. We tend to see the world as a far more hostile place than it really is.

It seems logical to me that social media would have similar distortional effects, perhaps in other, non-obvious dimensions, since the characteristics of these virtual contexts are so radically different.

Our social circles are much larger, but contain far less mutual inter-connections. We can develop artificial senses of belonging, and false impressions of relationships, where none really exists. The conversations are usually one to many, and originate in different motivations than real-life discourse. Why we communicate changes. Influence tends to derive from status, rather than accomplishment. Our susceptibilities to pride and status seem amplified in these scaled environments.

My new social media and information diet

How social media and the explosion of information affect individuals and societies is the subject of a lot of study and research today. As with most major technological shifts in history, there’s certainly benefits and drawbacks. What I tend to conclude, though, about myself at least, is that without discipline, patterns can develop that affect productivity, and without careful awareness, perceptions can be distorted. And above all, I simply don’t want to waste time!

My intent is the following:

  • Blogs For the time being, I’ll continue to read the blogs I like, but I’ll set strict boundaries; for example, only on weekends.

  • Social Media I’ll also limit Twitter (which is really the only social network that’s stuck with me) to weekends, but will make an additional change as well. Rather than follow a private curated list, whose members are based on perceived status, influence, or likelihood of saying something valuable to me, it will be based on relationships; mostly containing people I know (personally and virtually), who I want to keep up with.

I have a feeling this represents an important new phase in my life; a phase in which my social media consumption will get dramatically reduced in the same way the Paleo diet led to the dramatic reduction of carbs in my diet. (And just as with the Paleo diet’s “cheat day”, it’s not really about complete abstinence, but rather reduction and discipline.) Hopefully this represents a phase in which I’ll return as captain of the ship, determining what’s important through independent thought and experience; less affected by the biases and influences of the emergent online social contexts.

(As an end-note, I do recognize the irony of expressing all this in a blog post — and one that concludes with a “follow me on twitter” link! But for the time being, I’ll continue blogging, and tweeting, since writing, for me, is a great way to consolidate and distill vague ideas into some form of coherence.)

An interview with Notational Velocity developer Zachary Schneirov

For the past few years, one of the most frequently used applications on my Mac has been Notational Velocity. It’s a note-taking application, with a unique and efficient unified mechanism for both searching notes and creating new ones. Although I usually end up editing those notes in other applications (like iA Writer), they are always created and managed in Notational Velocity.

I’ve never known who’s behind the app until today, having stumbled across a great interview with its author, Zachary Schneirov.

Having read the interview, the following thoughts came to mind:

  • Schneirov is one of those super-talented individuals hidden away, working in obscurity and under the radar of mainstream social media. (In @makalu, we often talk about how that’s where most of the people we’d want working with us are located, and how hard it is to discover them!)

  • I really admire and envy his ability to apply such discipline to making decisions. Whether it’s taking donations, or adding a new feature, the interview gives an insight into how carefully he weights the consequences. You can tell he’s a man who says “No” far more often than “Yes”.

  • That the application is so fast, efficient, elegant and solid can almost go unnoticed; the ironic and unfortunate fate of great design and engineering effort. The interview illustrates just how great the design and engineering is behind this product! (And, it makes me want to rush out to pick-up Jeff Raskin’s, “Humane Interfaces” book…)

  • Apple’s development environment provides a lot of great frameworks. But the general purpose nature of those frameworks will mean they are sub-optimal for a lot of specific application contexts. To make the best application possible, an engineer needs to deeply understand both the framework, and the problem he’s solving, in order to know when it’d be better to roll his own solution. In the article, Schneirov discusses some of the interesting areas in which he decided not to use Apple’s solutions.

Grab a coffee, and spend some quality time reading the full interview.

How to batch process videos using HandBrake and Hazel

I’ve tried just about every video encoding product for MacOS X, and always keep returning to the venerable HandBrake.

Why haven’t I just stuck with HandBrake in the first place? One reason — its UI for batch converting videos sucks. Unlike all other products, you can’t just drag a bunch of videos into HandBrake. No, you have to chose them one at a time, and manually add them to the HandBrake queue.

Why haven’t I stuck with one of the other products? Because none of them have presets that are as good as HandBrake’s, and I couldn’t be bothered to learn the FFMPEG syntax. For example, all the presets in something like RoadMovie will change the resolution of the encoded video. HandBrake’s “Normal” preset will preserve the video’s original dimensions.

This weekend, with the help of Super-Makalu Justin Driscoll (@jdriscoll), I finally created a batch processing system, based on HandBrake. This article documents the setup.

What you need

  • (HandBrakeCLI). This is a version of HandBrake that can be run from the command line. Don’t expect the “doc” folder that comes with this utility to actually tell you how to install it. That’d be asking too much. Fire up Terminal, navigate to wherever HandBrakeCLI is, and move it to your /usr/bin directory with this command (you’ll be asked for your admin password).
  sudo mv ./HandBrakeCLI /usr/bin
  • Hazel. Hazel is a System Preference utility for the MacOS X, that allows you to schedule regular actions to be made on the contents of folders. Download and install.
  • This bash shell script, which you can copy and paste later from Pastie.

Basic idea

I have the following folder structure:

  /Users/mhenders/Hazel/Videos/input-ipod
  /Users/mhenders/Hazel/Videos/out-ipod
  /Users/mhenders/Hazel/Videos/processed

We’re going to tell Hazel to watch the “input-ipod” folder, and whenever it finds a new video file, to process that file with HandBrakeCLI, and then move the original into the “processed” folder.

Details

  • Once Hazel is installed, add the “input-ipod” folder to its watch list.
  • On that folder, create the following rule with two steps: (1) the first runs an embedded shell script (passing each video file to HandBrakeCLI for processing) and, (2) when done, move the original video to the “processed” folder, which you can later delete or whatever.

One setup, all you have to do is drop videos into the “input-ipod” folder, wait a few moments, and watch Hazel kick into action. I set this up on our 8-core iMac at home, and watched it blow through 100 videos. Yeah!

Caveats

The Hazel embedded script will fail if the original video has spaces in the name. So be sure to change “My Home Video.mov” to “My-Home-Video.mov” before dropping into the input folder. I haven’t taken the time to sort that out yet, but will update this blog when I do.

Enhancements

You’ll notice that I’ve named my watch folder “input-ipod”. As you can imagine, I have other input folders named “input-appletv” and “input-normal”, for dropping videos I want processed with HandBrake’s “AppleTV 2” and “Normal” presets. I modify the Hazel embedded script accordingly for those rules. A complete list of HandBrake’s presets can be found here.

Hope this article helps others wanting to do the same. If you do, I’d love for you to drop a “Hello” message in the comments below.

Daylite local offline database not present in Daylite Server

This post is about a critical problem that I’m having with MarketCircle’s Daylite product, and is mainly written for Google, so that other people who may have similar problems in the future will hopefully find a solution here.

Continue reading Daylite local offline database not present in Daylite Server

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

This article at 9to5 Mac talks about the number the apps available on each leading mobile platform. To put things in perspective, they show a chart:

What’s the problem here? The wrong chart type is being used.

  1. First, the x-coordinate data points aren’t evenly distributed. March 10 is nine months away from June 09, while March 11 is five months away from Oct 10. That relative time distance can’t be understood, visually, in a bar chart.
  2. What the chart is trying to communicate is relative rate of change, over particular periods of time. For that, a bar chart isn’t the most effective tool; a line chart is, since for any given span of time, a single vertical view provides the relative comparison, rather than four horizontal hops.

A line chart communicates the rate by which Android is catching up to Apple, more effectively.

Will the real Doug Bowman please stand up?

Although it was signed by @stop, this post to the Twitter blog wasn’t written by the same Doug Bowman that’s been writing over at stopdesign.com since 2006. (That’s one of the nice things about blogs; over time, you can really get to know someone .)

Here’s what the real Doug was probably thinking, while the subordinate Doug was forced to post this cheesy stuff:

Last month, we released an update to Twitter for iPhone and iPad containing a number of features that made finding friends and sharing information on Twitter even easier. The iPhone app also contained a new feature we wanted to test named the QuickBar.

We wanted to test? I knew from the moment management told me about it, the QuickBar was gonna flop. (In fact, the whole #dickbar thing was started secretly by me.)”

The QuickBar was originally conceived to help users discover what’s happening in the broader world beyond people they already follow.

“The QuickBar was originally conceived to get advertiser content in front of our users.”

The bar was also seen as a potential means of in-app notifications for new @mentions, DMs, and other important activity.

“And Google also saw those ad blocks as a potential means of showing pictures of Missing Children.”

We want Twitter to instantly connect people everywhere to what’s most meaningful to them.

“Obligatory lofty goals remark.”

In support of this, we will frequently experiment by trying new things, adding new features, and being bold in the product decisions we make.

“Being bold sounds better than being stupid.”

After testing a feature and evaluating its merits, if we learn it doesn’t improve the user experience or serve our mission, we’ll remove that feature.

“If our advertisers start shouting, ‘Get us out of that blasted #dickbar! We don’t want to be associated with it!’, we’ll remove that feature.”

Rather than continue to make changes to the QuickBar as it exists, we removed the bar from the update appearing in the App Store today. We believe there are still significant benefits to increasing awareness of what’s happening outside the home timeline. Evidence of the incredibly high usage metrics for the QuickBar support this.

“You hated it, so we’ll remove it. But our metrics show you loved it! And our metrics can also demonstrate that’s not a contradiction. Unless it is.”

For now, we’re going back to the drawing board to explore the best possible experience for in-app notification and discovery.

“I told you so.”

In short, the Doug Bowman we’ve come to know and love would have never voluntarily put the QuickBar in the Twitter client. Just as Doug left Google on the matter of principles, I predict we’ll see him leaving Twitter as well, if this kind of stuff continues.

Are we entitled to data security?

In a Wall Street Journal article related to Twitter’s settling of a privacy-related case, Consumer Protection Bureau Director David Vladeck states:

Consumers who use social networking sites may choose to share some information with others, but they still have a right to expect that their personal information will be kept private and secure.

If I, as a consumer, choose to create an account with a free social network service like Twitter, why am I entitled to anything beyond the terms of services to which I agreed?

Building software is hard

It’s always difficult to tell potential customers that we simply don’t know how long it’s going to take to build a software system, if said system is moderately complex. This is one reason we avoid fixed-priced projects — when the cost of building something is unknown, you want to make sure both you and the customer are on the same side of the table. It’s also why the principle of building the simplest system possible is so important.

Continue reading Building software is hard

Following Twitter in an RSS reader.

Varied reasons for following people on Twitter (including sheer imprudence) has resulted in a stream disproportionately populated with tweets from people that I’m either not really interested in hearing from on a daily basis, or are a bit too prolific in their tweeting. And as a consequence, I often miss tweets from certain people from whom I want to read everything said.

Until lists are supported in Tweetie for Mac, I’m going to experiment with following Twitter in an RSS feed reader (NetNewsWire — on both OS X and the iPhone), subscribing to the Twitter RSS feeds of a limited number of people. Expected benefits include:

  • My stream should now be filtered on what I’m most likely to be interested in reading.

  • I can read my twitter feed at a dedicated time (i.e. far less frequently), and will be sure not to miss anything said by those I want to hear from.

  • I’ll now get to see people’s @replies, which I’ve long missed.

How am I doing today, asks JungleDisk.

Having long switched to better solutions — e.g. Dropbox and Backblaze — I’d kept my JungleDisk account around because, uh… well, I’m not really sure anymore. Anyway, that’s besides the point. This morning, I logged into the JungleDisk billing interface to change my billing method from one AMEX card to another AMEX card. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Continue reading How am I doing today, asks JungleDisk.

Change of domain name — dafacto.com

So this blog used live at thisusersexperience.com. When I first registered that name, I thought, “Hmmm, that’s kind of long. I sure wouldn’t look forward to spelling that out over the phone — in Spanish.” It occurred to me that ThisUX.com would be much shorter; but alas, just as quickly, it occurred to me that “ThisUX” could easily be read “ThiSUX”, and then imagined myself entering the likes of those who later regretted their logo designs. To be on the safe side, I ended up registering, and operating the site on the longer name.

Well, this afternoon, my office colleagues finally convinced me that the shorter version would serve much better. It’s easier to remember, fits better in an email signature, and, truth be told, I do complain a lot, and “ThiSUX” would make a perfect blog post category.

Zip, bam, boom — and 30 minutes later we’re up and running on ThisUX.com.

On the other hand, as I’ve long since left the rank of competent designer/developer, to become a full-fledged PHB, it might well be I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a coordinated Friday-afternoon office joke.

Easier tweet authoring with LaunchBar.

Communicating well in 140 characters is one of the newer dimensions of “communication design,” and its importance was discussed at length some time ago by Rands in, “The Art of the Tweet.” Just like blog articles, I often draft tweets outside of my Twitter client, in a dedicated writing application. Since I sometimes have URLs, references and other text sitting alongside the drafted tweets, I really needed a quick and efficient way to count the characters of the tweets themselves.

Continue reading Easier tweet authoring with LaunchBar.

User Experience & Software Engineering

I remember, as if it were yesterday.

I was sitting in the ground station laboratory at the European Space Agency, needing to setup a test configuration using the “Monitoring & Control Module,” and staring at a grey screen full of mis-aligned, inconsistently-sized tabs on top of three-dimensional squares, on top of more squares on top of more tabs. The feeling was one of hopelessness and nausea. Who designed this thing? What were they thinking? Was the UI simply given to the most available “resource,” or perhaps the summer intern?

It was at that moment that I decided to start a company—MakaluMedia—in which “user experience” would drive everything we do. Continue reading User Experience & Software Engineering

Fixed: Blank pages returned after posting comments in WordPress

Testing my blog after upgrading to the latest version of WordPress, I noticed that blank pages were being returned after posting comments. Some Googling and further testing revealed that the Akismet anti-spam plugin was at fault, although the reason for it (at the present time) remains a mystery.

I did find a solution, however, involving a small modification to the comments.php file in the theme.

Upgraded my MacBook with a Solid-State Drive (SSD)

REPLACING MY MACBOOK’S HARD DRIVE WITH A SOLID-STATE DRIVE (SSD) has proven to be the most dramatic computer upgrade I’ve ever made. The startup time — including the operating system and my startup applications — has gone from 2.5 minutes, to under 30 seconds. In terms of the Macintosh experience, everything is so much faster, that it feels like having gone from a Motorola 68040-based machine, to an multi-core Intel-based machine, skipping the PowerPC altogether (maybe even better than that!)

Although platter-based drives have steadily grown in both speed and capacity over the years, the next major leap forward was promised by SSDs. These drives are based on solid-state memory, similar to your USB pen drive or the SD card in your camera. With no moving parts, they promised both dramatic speed increases, and dramatic improvements in reliability for certain contexts (like usage in laptop computers.)

The first SSDs that appeared on the market, however, proved disappointing. They were at the same time slower than the drives they were intended to replace, and they were prohibitively expensive. After reading those early reports, I lost interest in SSDs.

That is, until I read this:

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001304.html

Based on Jeff Atwood’s experience, things have definitely improved, and so I placed an order for a 256GB SSD from Crucial. Arriving yesterday, I mirrored my startup drive to the new SSD (using SuperDuper!) and then swapped it into the machine.

For some reason, it took about the same amount of time to go from switching the computer on, to seeing the login screen. But after that point, the experience was simply amazing.

Here are some notes:

  1. As mentioned before, the startup time (after logging in) dropped from 2.5 minutes, to less than 30 seconds. Whereas I used to patiently watch several startup application icons bouncing around together in the Dock for minutes, all the applications now seem to launch instantly.

  2. Using the “AJA System Test” benchmark tool, the SSD gets read/write speeds of 220 and 190 MB/s, respectively, compared to 40 and 50 MB/s as measured on the previous drive.

  3. Whereas I used to see 40 or 50 frames per second when encoding a video (from and to the same drive), I’m now seeing 130.

<

p>The overall experience of using the computer is just amazing. Applications start instantly, there’s minimum perceptible delay in switching applications, and applications which depend heavily on disk caching (like Safari and Firefox) feel an order of magnitude faster.

Test results related to iPhone OS 3.0 3G network speed problems

I’ve recently noticed poor 3G network speeds when using my iPhone, and wanted to conduct some tests to identify which of the following could be the potential culprit:

  1. Could it be the new 3.0 version of the iPhone operating system?

  2. Could it be the new 3GS model of the iPhone?

  3. Could it be a problem with my 3G provider, Vodafone España?

    Continue reading Test results related to iPhone OS 3.0 3G network speed problems